Müller Rojas: United Socialist Party of Venezuela is a `political necessity'

Alberto Müller Rojas, first vice president of the of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV), speaks to Kiraz Janicke of Venezuelanalysis.com and to Federico Fuentes of Links - International Journal of Socialist Renewal about the significance of the formation of the PSUV for the Bolivarian Revolution -- debates within the new party, what its relationship with the government should be and the immediate tasks of the PSUV in the struggle for the socialist transformation of Venezuela


March 24, 2008 -- Known as one of the most outspoken figures in the Bolivarian revolution, retired General Alberto Müller Rojas last year clashed publicly with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and warned that he was surrounded by ``nest of scorpions'' who wanted to depose him. In particular, he pointed to some of the political positions of then defence minister, Raúl Isaías Baduel, who only months later broke with the revolution and went over to side with the rightwing opposition.

Müller Rojas, after retiring from the military in 1985, became politically active in La Causa R (Radical Cause), at that time an important force on the Venezuelan left. Splitting over the question of support for Hugo Chavez's 1998 presidential campaign, Müller Rojas, along with a number of other important leaders went on to form Patria Para Todos (PPT, Homeland For All), with Müller Rojas assigned to heading up Chavez's campaign. After being assigned to the Venezuelan embassy in Chile, he was asked by Chavez to return to Venezuela and reintegrate himself into military service in order to be part of the chief of staff of the armed forces. Müller Rojas returned to the military on the proviso that he would continue to carry out political work, which was accepted by Chavez.

With the announcement of the formation of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV), Müller Rojas was named to the Promoters Commission. Following his public clash with Chavez over whether those serving in the military could be active in the PSUV, he stepped down from the commission and was retired from military service. However, he continued to be active in his local socialist battalion [branch] of the PSUV, from which he was first elected spokesperson, and then delegate to the founding congress of the PSUV.

Following Baduel's decision to break with Chavez in the lead-up to the December 2 referendum on the proposed constitutional reforms, Müller Rojas received a public apology from Chavez on state television. By the time of the founding PSUV congress, once again working closely with Chavez, he was designated to the Support Committee entrusted with the organising of the congress.

On March 2, Chavez asked the PSUV congress to allow him to have the right to designate a number of vice presidents, and announced that the first vice president of the PSUV would be Müller Rojas.


In your opinion, what is the significance of the recently concluded founding congress of the PSUV in the context of the revolutionary process unfolding in Venezuela today?

Müller Rojas: The party was a political necessity. The political process underway in Venezuela commenced in 1989 as a spontaneous movement, as a consequence of the imposition of the ``Washington Consensus''. In response, a spontaneous reaction occurred in Caracas; it was known as the *Caracazo*. But this response was not restricted to the capital; it was replicated in most of the large cities in Venezuela. This spontaneous process led, in essence, to the collapse of the structures of the established power.

Beginning with this process, a whole dynamic was unleashed. There was a fracturing of political parties, a fracturing of those forces that had dominated Venezuelan reality for 50 years, or more, since the 1920s. Venezuelans lost faith in government institutions, in social institutions like trade unions, bosses organisations. However, the armed forces remained untouched, to a certain extent, and the clergy: they were the two institutions which at the time, in the 1980s and beginning of the '90s, more or less, maintained some authority and influence within Venezuelan social and political life.

Historically, a left movement had developed within the armed forces, a movement that continued to strengthen. The repression carried out by the military against the popular movement [in 1989] -- where it is calculated that there were more than 2000 victims -- forced these officers belonging to the left to accelerate their participation in politics, and so in 1992 a military rebellion occurred, led by the current president Hugo Chavez.

The rebellion was defeated, the leaders went to jail, and in 1994 they were pardoned, incorporating themselves into the political life of the country. In the 1998 presidential election, they participated in the campaign, through which we were able to bring together all the left parties who were practically at war with each other. We were able to unite them in what was called the Polo Patriotico (Patriotic Pole).

I should humbly point out that I was perhaps an important factor in that development: at the time I belonged to a party call Patria Para Todos and I was named head of the presidential campaign.

But the dominant group in that coalition was a movement, which developed more within the framework of an electoral club than within the framework of a political party. It was called the Movimiento V Republica (MVR, Movement for the Fifth Republic). This movement was a very heterogeneous movement: there were people from all different political backgrounds who coexisted together. They disagreed with the existing political system and they wanted change, particularly in regards to recuperating a national identity that had been gradually lost under the impact of neoliberal policies and market globalisation.

It was a sui generis group that at no point received political and ideological orientation: it was simply an electoral machine. With this electoral machine they won the elections in 2000 following the approval of the new constitution, and then the recall referendum [in 2004] and various other electoral contests.

However, what we have never had is a structured force, with clearly established political objectives, that united all those factors that had participated in the electoral triumph that took Chavez to power, and which was able to reform the constitution and initiate a process, not simply around social demands, but a process of structural transformation of Venezuelan society.

The PSUV, today, is playing a determining role, not only as an instrument for electoral purposes, but as an instrument to seek the establishment of a socialist society, within a design that corresponds to our cultural values, our historic tradition and the general principles of socialism.

With the culmination of the founding congress, can we truly say that this crucial instrument, this party, now exists?

No, you cannot construct a party in one year. We have a multitude of 5.7 million people enrolled in the party; they have organised themselves, more or less, into cells of 300 or so people, that we have called socialist battalions, corresponding to the military culture of the president of the party, who at the same time is the head of the Venezuelan state. They have further organised themselves into what we call socialist ``circumscriptions'' that correspond, more or less, to the idea of the commune. They represent the coming together of various associated communities who face similar problems and share a similar cultural, political and economic development, within the concept of radical geography, which differentiates the state of development of populations that occupy different areas of the country.

As you can imagine, the culture of those 5.7 million militants varies greatly, particularly in a society where over the last 40 years some 40% to 50% of society were excluded: excluded from economic life, excluded from political life, excluded from social life. They lived in barrios [poor shantytowns] and continue to live there, because this situation has not been overcome in the last nine years. So the issue we face is how to include that multitude into a social unit, and give a political content to that, which in some way or another, those 5.7 million people expressed themselves as in favour of.

To construct the party as a unit of action is a task that will take several years; our effort in this regard only began last year -- it is only one year and four months since it began [when on December 15, 2006, Chavez formally announced his intention to build a new party]. What we have done until now is establish the formal characteristics of a party, but to unify ideologies will take time.

However, personally, it has been a big surprise for me the level of knowledge and consciousness of the people that have participated in the deliberations which are occurring from below, from the assemblies of the battalions to the founding congress, which had more than 1600 delegates elected from the socialist circumscriptions. It has been very surprising for me because I have the experience of being a university lecturer for more than 25 years in the Universidad Central de Venezuela (UCV, Central University of Venezuela) and I was pleasantly surprised by the political level of people who come from the most humble social classes in Venezuela and how well informed they are.

Over the last few years in Latin America we have seen the election of several left parties into government. Perhaps here in Venezuela it is possible to talk of an inverse process, where the party comes into being after the movement has become government. All this has opened up an important discussion here, and across the continent, regarding the party-government relationship.

What should be the relation between the PSUV and the government?

Well firstly, it is important to point out that the foundations of the structure that elected Chavez to the presidency were made up of left parties. The Polo Patriotico was fundamentally made up of the Partido Comunista de Venezuela (PCV, Communist Party of Venezuela); Movimiento al Socialismo (MAS, Movement Towards Socialism), which later abandoned the process; the party in which I was active, Patria Para Todos; and the Movimiento Electoral del Pueblo (MEP, Electoral Movement of the People), which was also a left party. Those parties constituted the fundamental political support that the government has had in these first nine years.

The majority of the components that made up the governmental team of the president of the republic were drawn from the cadres of these left parties. Within the leadership of the PSUV, elected to politically direct the party for one year, the great majority were previously members, or cadres, of left parties that have existed in Venezuela, some that have existed since the 1920s.

They were parties that in the 1970s were part of an important movement of rebellion. What we have to remember is that these left parties in Venezuela, given that they were parties that for the majority of the time existed illegally, were not parties of the multitudes, they were parties made up of cadres.

In the development of the party-government relationship, some of them have abandoned the process, but the majority, the great majority of the members of those parties, have integrated themselves into the PSUV.

Given how this process has developed, the relationship between the two is that we are the government and the government is the party. That is to say, the relationship is intimate: we are not dealing simply with an external support for the government; rather, we need to commit ourselves to seeking the highest efficiency possible in regards to implementing public policies, cooperating with the government in its implementation.

That is why politically, for instance, we will have an extraordinary amount of work to do regarding the development of popular power, more so given that here, as opposed to other governments of the left, we are trying to minimise the role of the bureaucracy and maximise the role of the ``adhocracy'', of ad hoc structures. The members of those parties are already involved in those ad hoc structures, where they have been working with a lot of effort, supporting health programs, such as the project know as Barrio Adentro (Into the Neighbourhood, a community health program), in the literacy programs, in the training and specialisation of workers. Here, the political cadres have not committed themselves to the bureaucracy, but instead to an adhocracy, in order to achieve aims that allow us, in the shortest time possible, to overcome the enormous differences that existed in our society.

You have already mentioned the composition of the newly elected leadership of the PSUV, in which a majority come with previous experiences in different political parties. Moreover, there has been a lot of talk about the existence of different currents or tendencies within the PSUV. What is your opinion on this question?

To begin, my personal opinion is that I see currents as very positive. I don't believe in a pensamiento unico [no English equivalent, but which roughly translates to mean single thought], nor do I believe in dogmatic thought, nor do I think Marx thought like that.

That idea perhaps corresponds more to the Stalinist current; nevertheless, within the movement there are people whose view of socialism comes from a Stalinist, dogmatic conception. I think, however, that the discussion and debate that is occurring will allow us to go along adjusting our political praxis and even adjusting the content of the political thesis. I don't believe in dogmatism, and in general terms I don't think many people agree with dogmatism, except those sectors that come from the Communist Party, who in Venezuela are more hardcore, and where the Third International has had a big influence. But there is a very interesting debate that is being had.

I believe that this enriches socialist thought and strengthens the party. That is why we do not call it the Partido Unico (Single Party) but rather the Partido Unido (United Party), understanding that a perfect unity between human beings does not exist, because each mind is a world of its own. So, we need to allow debate, consultation, negotiations.

I think that was one of the most important contributions made by my party, PPT, to Venezuelan revolutionary thought, because coming out of the crisis in Czechoslovakia [in 1968], this party which originated out of the Communist Party of Venezuela [1], recognised Stalinism as an error, and proposed the necessity to facilitate and promote debate.

However, this internal situation has not transformed itself here [in the PSUV] into the existence of currents, or factions. There is a debate in which everyone participates, because the grand majority of the members of the party do not come from the old parties of the left, they are people who were previously politically apathetic, and with the hope of transforming the country have incorporated themselves into the party. They do not have any previous political experience. This enriches the discussion a lot because we have even had to confront people who still profess the liberal capitalist culture.

In your opinion, what have been some of the most important decisions that have come out of the debates surrounding the program and principles of the party?

The first point is the party's definitive position against capitalism: the party presents itself as an anti-capitalist party.

Second, it has declared itself anti-imperialist and in favour of a humane societal structure based on a multi-polar world, recognising not only the differences that exist between nations, but also sub-national differences, a result of ethnic or cultural identities: this is another very important point.

Another point is the desire to push and open up opportunities to develop the productive forces that are present and that in many cases are underutilised. I would say that more than 70% of the national territory does not contribute to the process of generating wealth, and these are areas where a significant amount of natural resources exist that could be processed and help generate work. We have a workforce in which a great proportion, more than 40%, are unqualified, who we are trying to train. We also have capital which many times has been employed in an inefficient manner, using imported technology, creating a situation where many of the modern elements of production that we have here have converted themselves into enclaves: it is necessary to liberate those productive forces, this is one of the aims, one of the principles of the PSUV.

There are also some considerations regarding the issues of ethics: we are guided by the ethics of life; everything that favours life is good, everything that goes against life is bad. This includes looking after nature, looking after renewable and non-renewable natural resources, reducing the contamination of the environment, which is something that is very difficult to do because this is a petroleum-producing country. Nevertheless we are in favour of a systematic revision regarding the protection of the environment.

Here in Venezuela, where there is a proliferation of polluting traffic, particularly in the large cities, we are attempting to transform that reality in order to use non-polluting public transport. This has been very difficult given the tradition and the weight of consumerism in our society, above all amongst the middle classes, who have been truly indoctrinated into that way of thinking. It is exactly there, in the middle class, which represents barely 12% of the population, where we find the strongest resistance to our process.

In a number of recent articles, you have warned of a series of dangers confronting the new party and the revolution. What do you view as the biggest danger today?

Like Trotsky, I think that the first danger is bureaucratism. Bureaucratism tends to create a new class that makes party life much more rigid, where it loses its flexibility, and what happens is what we saw happen with the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. It's a danger, I would say, which is a bigger danger than the resistance of the right and the offensive by the [US] empire against the Venezuelan state: it is more dangerous than those two factors, because those factors have to confront not only socialist consciousness, but the strong national sentiment that exists within the Venezuelan people.

National identity within the popular classes is very strong; no other identity exists. They understand perfectly well that their possibilities to develop are tied to being within this group, and not outside it. Bureaucratism tends towards the breaking down of this strong sentiment, which the PSUV has today incorporated within its notion of nationality -- one seen from an internationalist perspective, not isolationist dogmatism. Historically, the Venezuelan people have internalised the idea that we form part of a grand nation, the Indo-American nation.

In the last few weeks there has been quite a lot of talk about the dangers of ultra-leftism, starting with Chavez's comments on the alleged role played by ultra-left or extremist groups in the downfall of the Salvador Allende government in Chile. How do you view this question in the Venezuelan context?

A curious thing occurs here in Venezuela: those that represent ultra-leftism are not in the Chavista movement, they are with the right, or they accompany the resistance of the rightwing, as opposed to what happened in Chile, where they were in the Allende government. Here, that radical, anarchistic left, perhaps who's best political expression is an organisation called Bandera Roja (BR, Red Flag), work with the conservative right, so they form part of the government's adversaries. Those radical, anarchistic groups do not form part of, and are not present within, the movement.

There are some expressions of it, there is a woman leader of the party, whose name is Lina Ron, who every once in a while carries out actions that aim to cause a splash, but she does not really represent a radical, anarchistic position. When she is told to return to her place, she accepts the discipline of the organisation.

The most extreme position within the government, within the movement, is that of the Partido Comunista de Venezuela, that is the most extreme position, inside a very heterogeneous group, like that which makes up the new socialist party, which recognises the social content of Christianity through what is known as Liberation Theology being incorporated into the socialist thought of the party.

What are the immediate challenges that the PSUV faces coming out of its founding congress?

Müller Rojas: Firstly, we have an immediate task, which is to organise the party territorially. On this issue we have two currents. There is one which inclines towards a position, that I also defend, of applying the theory of radical geography, which considers spatial divisions according to the level of development of the populations that occupies each space in the national territory, creating the possibility of homogenising the differences that occur between different populations from different regions, including in urban spaces.

There is another current that wants to respect the traditional geographical political culture of the Venezuelan state. This will be debated out and it is an immediate task because the manner in which the party will act on the national scale depends on this.

I hold to the position of applying the ideas and concept of radical geography because, within the concept of radical geography, the socioeconomic conditions of each social group located in a defined space determines the type of politics that needs to be applied in that space. We cannot do what is generally attempted, which is to apply policies for the whole of the population in a uniform manner: policies need to respond to the cultural, economic and even geographical plurality that is present in the Venezuelan reality, which is very varied.

Another issue will be the formation of the Polo Patriotico, because despite the fact that the greater part of the militants from our allies incorporated themselves into the new party, there is an irreducible sector who want to maintain their own political organisations, who have a history and traditions, and who occupy a space in the political and social life of the country. I think that in some way we have to perfect that alliance; that is also one of the tasks that we have to confront, to think through what mechanism we can utilise so that, together with us, they can participate in the development of socialism in Venezuela.

The party began its process of formation through local units organised on a territorial basis, and while there has been talk of creating social fronts to organise and integrate people on a sectoral basis -- workers, peasants, students etc. -- into the party through these fronts, until now this has not occurred. Some have said that this has led to a situation where the presence of the organised working class is not felt within the new party. What is your opinion in this regard?

When we talk about the working class here in Venezuela, or better said, when you talk about the working class, you are referring to the idea of a working class in a developed country. Here in Venezuela the working class represents an enclave of capitalism, because the working class, if we want to put it one way, is a privileged class if we compare it to those sectors that have not been incorporated into society.

Those sectors, which represent 40% of the population, were often viewed by traditional left organisations as falling within the category of lumpenproletariat, but they are not lumpenproletariat because they do not live off other people's work, they live off their own labour, which is not based on accumulation but simple subsistence: they work to subsist, without accumulating.

That was one of the discussions we had in my party [Causa R]. A current emerged within the party, led by Andrés Velásquez, who belonged to the working class, that considered that those excluded people were lumpenproletarians; in the same category as thieves and bankers, who are lumpenproletarians according to Marx's thesis because they live off other peoples' labour.

So to talk about an industrial proletariat here in Venezuela, when 40% of the labor force is not incorporated into a job, has no meaning. Our non-privileged class, our class is that sector that has been marginalised from society, which represents 40% of the population and which we have to incorporate into society so that they can live like people.

The biggest union federation that dominated the trade union movement in the country, which was much more powerful than the left, than the Partido Comunista and my party,[2] which carried out important union work, was a union federation whose interests corresponded to the interests of the bosses, it did not respond to the interests of the workers. It was a totally corrupt organisation that, together with the bosses, exploited the workers.

Workers here in Venezuela have their own house, car. They have the characteristics of what we could call the petty bourgeoisie: a worker in Venezuela was a privileged person. Moreover, the working class in Venezuela had living conditions in some cases superior to that of the professional middle class. The oil workers here in Venezuela lived in much better conditions than a doctor or an engineer working for the state, and this situation continues today, that has not changed. Now, can someone really think that within those people who live with that standard of living a revolutionary spirit can exist? The revolutionary spirit exists in that group of people who were excluded from Venezuelan political and social life.


[1] In 1971, the PCV underwent a split with one part of the organisation leaving to form MAS. Out of this split also came a small group, including well-known revolutionary leader Alfredo Maniero, who would later go on to form Causa R (Radical Cause). In the 1980s, and particularly the early 1990s, Causa R underwent a rapid growth, making it the third main party in Venezuelan politics. Following the split, out of which the majority went on to form the PPT, Causa R today is shadow of its former self and is part of the opposition.

[2] Müller Rojas is referring here to the important union influence built up by Causa R, particularly in the state of Bolivar, home of the majority of Venezuela's basic industries. In the 1990s one of its central leaders, Andrés Velásquez, who was the head of the union at the steel plant SIDOR, was elected governor of the state.

[Kiraz Janicke and Federico Fuentes are part of the Green Left Weekly Caracas bureau, and are members of the Democratic Socialist Perspective, a Marxist group in Australia that is part of the Socialist Alliance.]

March 24th 2008, by Kiraz Janicke - Venezuelanalysis.com

Caracas, March 24, 2008 (venezuelanalysis.com) - Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez moved to consolidate the formation of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) on Friday by appointing a total of nine territorial vice-presidents and seven national commissions for the new party. It is necessary to strengthen the PSUV in order to defend and deepen the Bolivarian revolution, as the process of radical change underway in Venezuela is known, the head of state explained.

Earlier, during a swearing in ceremony of the recently elected national leadership of the PSUV, Chavez warned that the new party must be ready to fight against U.S imperialism, "the Imperial plan is to overthrow this government and remove this Bolivarian Revolution, this is the reason for their permanent aggression against us" he said.

A strategic battle facing the PSUV is the upcoming regional elections for governors and mayors, Chavez pointed out. "The Venezuelan bourgeoisie is connected to the U.S. Empire. One of their plans is to weaken us through the electoral path, as a way to try overthrow us at the end of the year's regional elections in November," said Chavez.

Therefore, a new party must be more than simply an electoral party, Chavez declared. "The PSUV must emerge for the battle as a political party in a revolutionary situation."

As part of the process of consolidating the new party, PSUV vice-president Alberto Müller Rojas said there was a debate in the national executive over whether to apply the concept of "radical geography" to the territorial structure of the new party or to build the party parallel to existing structures of the Venezuelan state.

The nine territorial vice-presidents and seven commissions proposed by national executive of the PSUV "within the framework of the idea of new geometry of power" were the result of this debate he explained.

The territorial vice-presidents would direct the work of the PSUV at a regional level, taking into account regional inequalities, Müller Rojas added. "The point is to try and equalize the levels of development of the communities."

Among the new vice-presidents are former Finance Minister Rodrigo Cabezas, as vice-president for the states of Zulia and Falcon, (also charged with heading up the new finance commission of the party); National Assembly Deputy Carlos Escarrá, appointed as vice-president for Aragua and Carabobo, and Aristóbulo Istúriz, named as vice-president for the Capital District and the states of Miranda and Vargas.

Two vice-presidents were also appointed for the central plains region - governor of Portuguesa, Antonia Muñoz, and Education Minister, Adán Chávez.

The Governor of Lara, Luis Reyes Reyes, was appointed vice-president for the center-west region of the country and Ambassador to Cuba Alí Rodríguez Araque, for the Andean region.

María Cristina Iglesias was named as vice-president of the party in the east of the country and the governor of Delta Amacuro, Yelitza Santaella, was appointed for her home state as well as the states of Bolivar and Amazonas.

Apart from Santaella, all of the vice-presidents were drawn from the fifteen principal delegates and fifteen substitute delegates elected on March 10 to the PSUV national executive. As is the case with the fifteen principal delegates of the national executive, the so-called ‘traditional' or moderate left constitutes the majority of territorial vice presidents.

In addition to the national finance commission, six other commissions were created; a commission for international affairs headed by Nohelí Pocaterra, a commission for social movements/popular power (Héctor Rodríguez), an events commission (Darío Vivas), a commission for ideology (Alí Rodríguez Araque), a commission to oversee the party-government relationship (Ramón Rodríguez Chacín), and a commission for communication and information (Vanessa Davies).

Jorge Rodriguez, former Venezuelan vice-president and ex-national coordinator of the PSUV in its formative stages, was also appointed National Director of Political Organization.

Müller Rojas said the next step for the party was to develop organic links between the regional leaderships, the national commissions, and the local leaderships that already exist in the grassroots "socialist battalions" and the "socialist circumscriptions" (groups of 7-12 battalions), through the formation of a "political team" for each region drawn from the socialist circumscriptions.

He also announced that the PSUV would enter into formal discussions this week with other political parties, including Homeland for All (PPT), the Communist Party of Venezuela (PCV), and the Electoral Movement of the People (MEP) in order to form a Polo Patriotico (Patriotic Pole) or alliance for the regional elections.

The PSUV is considering various methods, such as running primaries or using an internal polling system in order to select candidates for the regional elections. While the issue has not been resolved "the grassroots will be consulted," he assured.

Müller Rojas also warned that those who prematurely launch themselves as PSUV candidates without the approval of the grassroots would "lose the respect of the party in their aspirations... we want to avoid personal currents.

José Albornoz, the General Secretary of the PPT, pressured the PSUV to move forward this week, saying, "It is necessary to inform the country what we a re going to do. This is a decisive week and it is necessary to begin to define some things, among those if we are going to form the alliance or not."

Albornoz argued that the PSUV should clarify its mechanism for selecting candidates and design a methodology that allows the inclusion of other political forces.

The PPT's preferred method of selecting candidates for an electoral alliance is consensus, Albornoz stated. "What is important is the quality of the candidate, not the quantity," he asserted.

On the other hand, Edgar Lucena, head of the PCV fraction in the National Assembly, reaffirmed his support for the formation of a Broad Front or Polo Patriotico, which he said should develop policies for the whole country and form an electoral alliance, but should not be limited purely to the electoral sphere.

Lucena stressed that it was necessary that candidates come from the heart of the communities and indicated his support for the process of carrying out primaries in order to choose candidates for the alliance. He said the PCV does not have objections to candidates from the PSUV and PPT as long as they have popular support.


The debate sharpens in Venezuela

April 11, 2008 | Page 5

LEE SUSTAR looks at the controversies within Venezuela's Bolivarian revolution.

THE DEBATE over Venezuela's future is heating up again--not only in the ongoing struggle between the pro-U.S. conservative opposition and President Hugo Chávez, but in a clash between the left and right wings of the "revolutionary process" itself.

To be sure, Chávez has continued to sound the nationalist and populist themes of the Bolivarian revolution, named for the 19th century liberation fighter, and to declare his commitment to "socialism for the 21st century."

Chávez recently announced the nationalization of the cement industry in order to step up construction of housing, which is in short supply in the capital of Caracas and other major cities. The government also announced plans for a surtax on oil revenues when prices exceed $70 per barrel, a move that would increase revenues for social programs that have already greatly improved the lives of millions of poor people by providing access to health care and education.

Yet at the same time, other developments highlight the contradictions and limitations of the changes.

For example, Venezuelan left was shocked March 14 when the National Guard repressed a peaceful demonstration of union workers at the Sidor steel plant in Ciudad Guyana, the country's center of heavy industry.

What else to read

Lee Sustar's article "Where is Venezuela going?" in the July-August 2007 issue of the International Socialist Review is an extensive and in-depth look at Hugo Chávez and the meaning of 21st century socialism.

The best source in English for current news and analysis of Venezuela is the Venezuelanalysis.com Web site. Readers of Spanish should visit Aporrea.org, the widely read, frequently updated and most important Web site of the Venezuelan left.

Changing Venezuela: The History and Policies of the Chávez Government, a book by Gregory Wilpert, editor of the Venezuelanalysis.com Web site, looks at politics and policy in the debate over socialism. Another very useful book is Venezuelan Politics in the Chávez Era: Class, Polarization and Conflict, edited by Daniel Hellinger and Steve Ellner.

Dozens of workers were wounded, 53 were arrested, and 50 cars were destroyed in the attack on workers whose only crime was to reject management's contract offer and demand the re-nationalization of the formerly state-owned company. Before it was privatized, Sidor employed 15,000 full-time workers. Today, the number is 4,000, with nearly 9,000 employed through subcontractors and temporary agencies.

"The steelworkers support the revolutionary process," said José Melendez, financial secretary of the workers' union SUTISS. "But we want to deepen it in harmony with what President Chávez says. We don't understand the type of socialism in which the officials give support to a transnational corporation against the workers."

A little more than two weeks later, union activists at a Bridgestone-Firestone tire plant in the city of Valencia came in for similar treatment. When workers fired for union activity tried to block the plant gates, Carabobo state police arrested 30 of them.

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SINCE THE defeat of Chávez's proposed constitutional reforms in a December 2 referendum, the conservative opposition and employers have been more confident in opposing Chávez and resisting social political change.

At the same time, the conservative, bureaucratic elements around Chávez have themselves become more aggressive in pushing for more moderate policies and reining in the left.

The grassroots movement has responded by making unprecedented criticisms of the "derecha endógenena"--that is, the right wing within the Chavista camp. The friction between right and left was on display at the founding congress of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV), which recently concluded.

The context of the struggle within the Chavista movement is the difficulties facing workers and the poor.

Fast-rising food prices, corruption and hoarding by corporate food distributors have led to periodic shortages of staples like chicken and sugar in the state-subsidized Mercal grocery stores, and even in privately owned shops. The majority of workers in the country still earn the minimum wage, which, while among the highest in Latin America, can't keep pace with inflation.

Meanwhile, the upper middle class and the wealthy oligarchy have benefited greatly from the Venezuelan economy's high growth rates, binging on luxury autos and homes. Profits in the financial sector are unprecedented.

This class polarization set the stage for the defeat of the constitutional referendum. Had the proposals been approved, they would have restructured local and regional governments to institutionalize popular and "communal" power. They also would have enshrined into the constitution various social gains, including protection for gay rights and the six-hour workday. Social security benefits would have been extended to workers in the informal sector of economy, which includes about half of all workers.

More controversial were proposals to give the office of president more powers, including the ability to appoint additional vice presidents to run regions of the country, control over military promotions and the abolition of presidential term limits. The opposition portrayed these moves as a dictatorial power-grab by Chávez.

Chávez's electoral base registered its impatience with economic and social problems by staying home on Election Day. Although the opposition vote in the referendum increased by just 200,000 over the presidential election held the previous year, the pro-Chávez vote fell by 3 million through abstention.

The defeat of the referendum has given a powerful boost to the right. This, in turn, spurred the left to take up criticisms of government policies, targeting in particular those seen as engaging in corrupt behavior or impeding radical change. For many, the personification of the "endogenous right" is Diosdado Cabello, a former military officer who is now governor of the state of Miranda surrounding Caracas.

For his part, Chávez alternately tilts to the left and to the right. On the one hand, he has launched the "three R" campaign--revise, rectify, and re-motivate--to tackle social problems and reconnect with the voting base that deserted him in December.

At the same time, Chávez leans on an increasingly powerful circle of politicians and functionaries like Cabello. If Chávez expected to use the referendum to consolidate the "Bolivarian revolution" through grassroots participation in a restructured political system, he now pursues that goal through alliances with regional powerbrokers.

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THE LEFT'S criticism of such figures flowed into the congress of the PSUV, which was held on successive weekends for nearly two months earlier this year. The left complained that their proposals were blocked by bureaucrats--officials from parties that had comprised Chávez's governing coalition before their merger to form the PSUV.

Many also complained of the undemocratic process used to choose the top leadership of the PSUV. Although every branch of the party was able to submit candidates, a commission headed by Chávez paired down the proposals to just 60 names, who were then elected by the PSUV congress. The most prominent conservatives failed to get elected, but most key posts went to those widely seen as yes-men and yes-women for Chávez.

The debate in the PSUV is set to continue as the party selects candidates to compete in local and regional elections set for October.

Most of the Venezuelan far left has opted to remain inside the PSUV as a means of building a larger critical current within the Chavista camp. Yet PSUV officials have already shown that there are limits to the amount of dissent they are prepared to tolerate. They announced a "unanimous" pre-expulsion on National Assembly member Luís Tacsón after he accused the younger brother of Diosdado Cabello of corruption.

The left's ability to challenge the "endogenous right" has been greatly weakened by the fragmentation of the National Union of Workers (UNT), a labor federation formed in 2003 out of the remnants of the corrupt pro-opposition labor federation, the CTV, which had supported the U.S.-backed coup attempt the previous year.

The UNT scarcely exists today--its half-dozen internal currents operate more or less autonomously. One of the currents, the Bolivarian Socialist Federation of Workers (FSBT), controls the Ministry of Labor. According to its critics, the labor ministry tilts towards management and is trying to create a state-run labor federation.

On the left of the UNT, the largest grouping, the Class-Struggle, Unitary and Revolutionary Current (C-CURA), is itself divided. Its best-known figure, Orlando Chirino, split with other C-CURA leaders to call for a "no" vote in the constitutional referendum. The government took its revenge when the state oil company PDVSA fired Chirino from his job, a move that was denounced even by Chirino's critics.

With the right-wing opposition energized by Chávez's setbacks, the challenge for the left is to reinvigorate activism and build organizations that can confront both the employers and bureaucratic and corrupt elements in the government that weaken the struggle.

The left in the PSUV should inflict a cost high enough that those who wish to manipulate the party "have to think about it twice," said Stalin Pérez Borges, a national coordinator of the UNT and member of the PSUV in Valencia. "I believe that if we fight for this, we can get some of our people in, some of the workers, some from the popular movements, some who, as the president would say, are for the deepening of the revolutionary process and the struggle to build socialism."


Venezuela: A party in transition for the transition to socialism

Luis Bilbao, Caracas 5 April 2008

Venezuela will not be the same after the formation of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) — whose founding congress concluded in March. Nor will Latin America.

Since the call for its foundation by President Hugo Chavez over one year ago, it has been the cause of controversies, diatribes and doubts. Above all it was the object of violent attacks.

This was not without reason: to construct a party for the socialist revolution, in this historic moment, goes against conventional wisdom.

Due to ignorance or vested interests, the philosophical trend known as postmodernism extrapolated from the experience of the Soviet Union in order to come up with some categorical conclusions: socialism is impossible, revolution is unthinkable and a party is an inadmissible anachronism.

Huge sums of Euros provided by European social democracy feed these “social movements” and various “horizontalist structures” — a definition that would come to stress the identification of “verticalism” with “party”.

With parallel generosity, although expressed in US dollars, other similar structures were created or coopted by the CIA.

Refusing to challenge capitalism

With left-wing labels, various infallible European theoreticians coincided with this push by explaining that, from now on, it was about “making revolution without taking power”.

All types of absurdities were utilised to sidestep the necessity for revolution, the non-viability of capitalism and the need to create adequate political instruments in order to confront imperialism and its minions — instruments with which to unite, educate, organise and lead millions of men and women in struggle against this agonising system.

Nevertheless, there was still something missing: opposition to the concept of the party by those very same parties that define themselves as left. This omission was resolved in Venezuela when numerous revolutionary tendencies refused to participate in the construction of the PSUV.

The real cause of this opposition in Venezuela to the foundation of a party that united all those forces committed to the Bolivarian revolution, led by the Chavez government, lay elsewhere — with the reticence to confront the transition towards socialism.

The project underway had reached the point of no return: either socialist revolution or caricature of a revolution.

The list of names and organisations that openly or underhandedly opposed casting off the capitalist system — often as an unconscious reflex action — would surprise many.

The call for a mass party

After having raised the banner of the transition towards socialism, and received massive support when he was re-elected in December 2006, Chavez announcement the necessity to construct the United Socialist Party of Venezuela. In response, multiple fractures occurred.

Firstly, within the mass movement that supported the call. Support for creating the PSUV deeply eroded the membership of the different parties that backed the Chavez government, with 5.7 million people enrolling as aspiring members of the PSUV.

Secondly, some smaller segments, that until then had been part of the government, returned to the fold of the pro-imperialist opposition. (The most notorious examples of this were the party Podemos and retired general Raul Baduel, who had been defence minister until July last year.)

Thirdly, there were the splits produced within those forces committed to the revolution, but who, for different reasons, refused to carry out the colossal task of organising a mass socialist party.

The fourth bloc, in no way homogenous or organised but perhaps the most significant in numerical terms, were those individuals, generally from the middle classes, who had supported the government but who stepped to the side in the face of an impending transcendental decision: destroying the capitalist state.

All this translated into disorder, dislocation, paralysis, confusion and arbitrary behaviour — all with an irrational appearance, but which in the last instance were consistent with fear of the future. Society as a whole lived through this moment in a state of confusion, disorganisation and paralysis.

The PSUV advanced in leaps, but it also suffered from the effects of this state of affairs. And the enemy entered via these cracks with lucidness, determination and a perfect apparatus for mass political action. That is how we ended up with the unexpected result in the December constitutional reform referendum [which aimed to assist the transition to socialism].

Chavez was defeated for the first time at the ballot box since his election as president in 1998.

Dialectic of old and new

It was here that postmodern ideas reappeared with vigour, producing a paradoxical effect, although in some ways usual in the history of the class struggle. Those same people who held back on supporting the creation of the PSUV, without which nothing could advance in the Bolivarian revolution, discovered the weaknesses, faults and errors within it.

Now it was possible to oppose the creation of the party — and refuse to concretely initiate measures against capitalism — with abundant argumentation and by placing the blame on others.

Parallel to this was the relaunching of the construction of the PSUV. One out of every five of those who had enrolled, 1.2 million people, methodologically embarked on this task.

This mass began to regularly meet in order to study and debate notions that had been relegated during decades of reaction. It was a formidable battle of ideas; a cadre school of gigantic proportions.

With more or less democratic rigour, but invariably with the participation of all those who volunteered to involve themselves, grassroots elections occurred for delegates who would go on to give life to the founding congress over eight weekends (the last one on March 8-9).

They voted on a declaration of principles, program and statutes. Parallel to the congress sessions, the entirety of the ranks met in their local branches to discuss those same documents and approve, or not, amendments proposed by the delegates.

On the last weekend, a provisional national leadership was elected. The next step will be a universal vote of all full members to decide upon the definitive leadership at the end of the year. Before this, it will be necessary to resolve the mechanism for the selection and election of candidates for the elections for mayors and governors this November.

There was no lack of trip ups, arbitrariness and inexperience, which was inevitable with such a genuine representation of Venezuelan society. What is surprising is the clear preponderance within the congress of genuine representatives of the will of the grassroots.

We can presume that tendencies or groups organised around ideas or interests — not always compatible with the aims of the Bolivarian revolution — will recuperate lost space in the face of the obligated necessity of respecting democratic criteria.

The result, nevertheless, is unmistakable — this general project that marches towards socialism of the 21st Century, embodied in the figure of Chavez, now counts on a fledgling but powerful force organised as a revolutionary party.

No ceasefire

The battle (of ideas, of methods, of lines of action) will not end with the closing of the founding congress. In fact it is only beginning. From now on the absence of those who, having accumulated invaluable experience and knowledge but did not commit themselves to the project, will be noticeable and more sharply felt than even during the congress.

But the ideas of revolution, driven by political will, will produce miracles.

The party for the transition will, at the same time, surely be a party in transition. With its transcendental value, the documents voted by the congress will remain subordinated to a reality dominated by the immediate relationship of forces and the existing political culture.

It will take years of ideological, political and organisational struggle to forge an adequate instrument capable of constructing a new society. These multiple battles will occur simultaneously and inseparably from the confrontation with imperialism and the internal enemies of the revolution.

This is not a prediction of the future, it is occurring right now, with the imperial challenge of ExxonMobil (against the nationalisation of its assets) and the furious destabilisation campaign of the local bourgeoisie.

[Abridged from March edition of America XXI, http://americaxxi.com.ve. Translated by Federico Fuentes. A longer article by Bilbao, entitled “Venezuela: Revolution, party and a new international”, can be found at http://www.links.org.au/node/317 ]

From: International News, Green Left Weekly issue #746 9 April 2008.